When I was a kid, Predator moved pretty quickly from terrifying movie monster to marketable and collectible sci-fi Jason analog. The 90s in particular had Predator 2, a slew of action figures from Kenner, comic book crossovers with Batman, novels, video games. It became a fever pitch of MORE MORE MORE, which really set the tone for the franchise for years to come. Predator 2 established that they’ve been coming to this planet for a long time, Predators showed their homeworld, the two AvP films gave us a monster mash best left to Capcom, all culminating with The Predator; a garbled mess of elements answering questions nobody asked resulting in a critical disaster. Preyfrom director Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane, The Boys) takes things back to cat-and-mouse basics, making Prey closest in basic plot elements of the original Predator, but from a new angle.
Set during the 18th century, Prey follows Naru (Amber Midthunder), a Comanche medicine woman who yearns to be recognized by her people as a hunter like her brother. When Naru notices strange corpses and inexplicable lights appearing in the sky, she goes off in search of the source; six hundred pounds of sin known as The Predator. The alien hunter cuts a swath through Naru’s tribespeople, CGI animals, and French fur trappers, leading up to a final showdown with Naru.
Naru doesn’t have the weaponry or resources of heroes past, just grim determination, good observational skills, knowledge of the land and the know-how to take advantage of people who underestimate her. I can buy Naru as a warrior learning and adapting to this new threat a lot more than Adrian Brody trying to pass for a hardened killer in Predators.
The Feral Predator (the designation was given by creature designer Michael Vincent) is more demonic looking than his future brethren, sporting a skull mask and more prominent mandibles. Yet a certain humanity in the creature pokes out from how it eschews body armor and how the film continually draws parallels between Naru and the creature. They’re both warriors out to prove themselves, tracking the land and observing. For a film about a Native American fighting back a foreign invader, the film doesn’t really try to parallel the Predators with historical colonists, and goes as far to contrast the alien warrior by illustrating its restraint in comparison to French fur trappers who lay waste to whole herds of buffalo.
The average blockbuster sci-fi property entry these days has to be bigger than big. Prey scales things back in a refreshing way. No world-destroying lasers, no cavalcade of marketable side characters, and no insufferable Whedon-esque zingers. Just a lone alien warrior, and a woman trying to prove herself and protect her people at the same time. That’s it. Rather than green-screened cities, we get actual natural landscapes that become a character in their own right as you wonder where the Predator is lurking amongst the trees and mountains.
Prey basically feels like one of the older Dark Horse Predator comics from the 90s and I mean that in a good way. Prey tells its own story that works in both a greater context of the series and on its own. The film embodies a less-is-more philosophy compared to previous sequels, benefiting from that tighter focus and smart use of a smaller budget while still delivering some great kills. And while this is a streaming only release on Hulu for now, reaction to the film has been overwhelmingly positive, leading to fans clamoring for a theatrical release. And as much as I bemoaned merchandising earlier, I really wouldn’t mind having a Feral Predator figure sitting on my desk. Takayuki Takeya has sculpted numerous Predator garage kits, statues, and toys over the years, so fingers crossed we get to see his spin on this Predator in the near future.
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